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The Luna moon mission program (from the Russian word Луна “Luna” meaning “Lunar” or “Moon”), occasionally called Lunik by western media, was a series of robotic spacecraft missions sent to the Moon by the Soviet Union between 1959 and 1976. Fifteen were successful, each designed as either an orbiter or lander, and accomplished many firsts in space exploration. They also performed many experiments, studying the Moon’s chemical composition, gravity, temperature, and radiation.
Twenty-four spacecraft were formally given the Luna designation, although more were launched. Those that failed to reach orbit were not publicly acknowledged at the time, and not assigned a Luna number. Those that failed in low Earth orbit were usually given Cosmos designations. The estimated cost of the Luna program in 1964 was US$6–10 billion.
Luna 1 (launched Jan. 2, 1959) was the first spacecraft to escape Earth’s gravity. It failed to impact the Moon as planned and became the first man-made object to go into orbit around the Sun. Luna 2 (launched Sept. 12, 1959) was the first spacecraft to strike the Moon, and Luna 3 (Oct. 4, 1959) made the first circumnavigation of the Moon and returned the first photographs of its far side. Luna 9 (Jan. 31, 1966) made the first successful lunar soft landing. Luna 16 (Sept. 12, 1970) was the first unmanned spacecraft to carry lunar soil samples back to Earth. Luna 17 (Nov. 10, 1970) soft-landed a robot vehicle, Lunokhod 1, for exploration. It also contained television equipment, by means of which it transmitted live pictures of several kilometres of the Moon’s surface. Luna 22 (May 29, 1974) orbited the Moon 2,842 times while conducting space research in its vicinity. Luna 24 (Aug. 9, 1976) returned with lunar soil samples taken from a depth of seven feet (about two metres) below the surface.
A few Luna missions won key victories in the space race between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Luna spacecraft were the first to impact and make a survivable landing on the Moon, photograph the far side of the Moon (never before seen by humans) and orbit the Moon.
The Lunar Gateway, or simply the Gateway, is a planned small space station in lunar orbit intended to serve as a solar-powered communication hub, science laboratory, short-term habitation module, and holding area for rovers and other robots. It is expected to play a major role in NASA’s Artemis program, after 2024. While the project is led by NASA, the Gateway is meant to be developed, serviced, and utilized in collaboration with commercial and international partners: Canada (CSA), Europe (ESA), and Japan (JAXA). It will serve as the staging point for both robotic and crewed exploration of the lunar south pole, and is the proposed staging point for NASA’s Deep Space Transport concept for transport to Mars.Formerly known as the Deep Space Gateway (DSG), the station was renamed Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G) in NASA’s 2018 proposal for the 2019 United States federal budget.
The Gateway will be an outpost orbiting the Moon that provides vital support for a sustainable, long-term human return to the lunar surface, as well as a staging point for deep space exploration. It is a critical component of NASA’s Artemis program.
The Gateway is a vital part of NASA’s deep space exploration plans, along with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, Orion spacecraft, and human landing system that will send astronauts to the Moon. Gaining new experiences on and around the Moon will prepare NASA to send the first humans to Mars in the coming years, and the Gateway will play a vital role in this process. It is a destination for astronaut expeditions and science investigations, as well as a port for deep space transportation such as landers en route to the lunar surface or spacecraft embarking to destinations beyond the Moon.
NASA has focused Gateway development on the initial critical elements required to support the 2024 landing – the Power and Propulsion Element, the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) and logistics capabilities.
NASA is committed to landing American astronauts, including the first woman and the next man, on the Moon by 2024. Through the agency’s Artemis lunar exploration program, we will use innovative new technologies and systems to explore more of the Moon than ever before. We will collaborate with our commercial and international partners to establish sustainable missions by 2028. And then we will use what we learn on and around the Moon to take the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.
What is the NASA Artemis Program?
- Learn more about Artemis progress
Why Go to the Moon?
With the Artemis program we will:
- Demonstrate new technologies, capabilities, and business approaches needed for future exploration including Mars
- Establish American leadership and a strategic presence on the Moon while expanding our U.S. global economic impact
- Broaden our commercial and international partnerships
- Inspire a new generation and encourage careers in STEM
How Do We Get There?
NASA’s powerful new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), will send astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft nearly a quarter million miles from Earth to lunar orbit. Astronauts will dock Orion at the Gateway and transfer to a human landing system for expeditions to the surface of the Moon. They will return to the orbital outpost to board Orion again before returning safely to Earth.
When Will We Get There?
Ahead of the human return, we will send a suite of science instruments and technology demonstrations to the lunar surface through commercial Moon deliveries beginning in 2021.
The agency will fly two missions around the Moon to test its deep space exploration systems. NASA is working toward launching Artemis I, an uncrewed flight to test the SLS and Orion spacecraft together, followed by the Artemis II mission, the first SLS and Orion test flight with crew. NASA will land astronauts on the Moon by 2024 on the Artemis III mission and about once a year thereafter.
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